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‘All their flags are stained with blood’: Zelenskiy urges ‘complete isolation’ for Russian athletes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a virtual address to U.S. members of Congress, March 16, 2022. (Video screenshot)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has argued strongly against allowing Russian athletes to compete in international sporting events even under a neutral flag.

Zelenskiy said he told International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach in a phone call on December 14 that Russian athletes should face “complete isolation” on the international stage, in particular at international sporting events, including the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

He said he opposed moves to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as long as they do not participate under their countries’ colors or flags.

Speaking in his evening video address, Zelenskiy bolstered his argument by citing a report from earlier on December 14 about the death of an 8-year-old boy in Kherson from Russian shelling.

“We can only say one thing: A white or any neutral flag is impossible for Russian athletes. All their flags are stained with blood,” Zelenskiy said.

Russian athletes were allowed to compete at this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing under the Russian Olympic Committee flag. That was punishment for doping violations and had been determined long before Russia launched the war on its neighbor. But many athletes from Russia wore uniforms in the colors of the Russian flag.

Zelenskiy also told Bach that the principles of the Olympic movement “definitely do not include cooperating with terrorist states,” adding that letting Russian athletes compete would allow Moscow to tell Russians that the world condones terror.

“This is how it will be presented by Russian propaganda if the International Olympic Committee allows [Russian athletes] to participate in sporting events on an equal footing with others,” he said.

There was no information on how Bach responded.

U.S. officials said earlier this week there was “unanimous interest” among delegates to an IOC summit to come up with a path that would allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in the Olympics.

Russian and Belarusian sports teams have been isolated from international sports since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, though some individual Russian athletes, such as tennis players, have been allowed to compete in some competitions.